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Mike Edwards Finds a New Gear | A Next Gen Look at Bucs-Colts

On the play that saved Tampa Bay's 38-31 win over Indianapolis on Sunday, safety Mike Edwards ran faster and farther than he had on any other play this season


The Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Indianapolis Colts, 38-31, at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday, with Leonard Fournette providing the winning points on a 28-yard touchdown run with 20 seconds to play. At the end of the play, as he crossed the five-yard line, Fournette encountered cornerback Isaiah Rodgers, who had followed Chris Godwin down the field and was now trying to fight off a Godwin block in order to get a shot at the back. He indeed got it, but only slid into Fournette's path at the last second, like he was taking a charge in basketball. It had little effect as Fournette simply bulled over him into the end zone.

Rodgers was not a goat on the play. Few defensive backs would have been able to slide over at the last second and hold their ground against Fournette coming directly at them with a head of steam. But maybe that minor indignity gave Rodgers an extra bit of motivation because moments later he would improbably give the Colts a chance to send the game to overtime.

Rodgers might have done it, too, if Buccaneers safety Mike Edwards hadn't also dug deep for a little extra boost.

With those 20 seconds still on the clock, the Bucs still had to kick off one more time. To that point, Bradley Pinion had blasted all of his picks into the Colts' end zone, all for touchbacks. Another touchback would put the Colts, who had only one timeout left, 75 yards away from the end zone and likely reduced to one or two desperation plays. Pinion also hit his seventh kickoff four yards into the end zone but this time Rodgers, who was back deep, brought it. He really had nothing to lose.

And a lot to gain potentially, which he did find a seam to the left sideline and sprinting up it for 72 yards to the Buccaneers' 32. The Colts now had at least a reasonable chance to score a tying touchdown, but Carson Wentz threw one incompletion before his desperation heave on the last play was intercepted by Pierre Desir at the Bucs' two-yard line.

That meant the man who got Rodgers out of bounds at the end of his long return, denying him the end zone, had saved the game for Tampa Bay. And that man was Edwards. Patrick O'Connor was the only other defender with a shot at Rodgers at that point, maybe, but he was also being blocked away from the return man by tight end Kylen Granson. It's highly likely that Rodgers would have scored had Edwards not gotten there in time.

On Monday, Head Coach Bruce Arians suggested that Edwards had found a previously-undiscovered gear at the Bucs' most desperate of moments.

"Obviously, Mike, I think he hit top speed of his life chasing the guy on the kickoff return and thank God he did," said Arians.

I am not sure if Arians knows or cares what NFL Next Gen Stats are, but they happen to prove Arians right, at least if we substitute the word 'season' for 'life.' According to NGS, Edwards ran faster on that play than he had on any other player in 2021, and he also ran farther than he ever had before.

The two players at the far ends of the line, closest to the sideline, on a kickoff coverage unit are called 'safeties,' fittingly in Edwards' case. On the Bucs' final kickoff, Edwards was the left safety and Desir was the right safety. Pinion's kickoff went directly down the right hashmarks and, after fielding it, Rodgers first bent left towards the middle and then cut back to the left at about the 10-yard line, shooting through a well-blocked gap and between Desir, Ross Cockrell, Cam Gill and Anthony Nelson at the 20.

As the left safety, Edwards' first concern on the play is to make sure he keeps his edge secured. He stays outside the numbers until about the Indianapolis 33-yard line, and he's at the 30 when it's clear that Rodgers is going to go down the other sideline. The danger wasn't quite obvious yet but Edwards starts running horizontally towards that sideline at the Indy 28 and then starts working on his angle of pursuit back down towards the Bucs' end zone at the moment that Rodgers is splitting his gap.

Rodgers reaches a top speed on his return of 21.27 miles per hour right as he's crossing the midfield stripe. At this point, Edwards is at the Bucs' 45 and angling towards the sideline, and he has accelerated to 20.07 miles per hour. That was the first time all season that Edwards had reached a max speed of at least 20 miles per hour. He will top out on this play at 20.23 mph.

At the end, Edwards almost shoots past Rodgers but is able to spin him around get him out of bounds with his left arm as he crosses in front of the return man. As Rodgers understandably runs off to celebrate his big play, Edwards kneels on the field's white border, perhaps a little winded, perhaps upset that the coverage unit had allowed such a big play, or perhaps relieved.

If he was winded, it would be understandable. In his looping route, Edwards ran 100.8 total yards on the play. That's a long way. Like, the most yardage Edwards has covered on any play all season. And the Buccaneers needed him to cover every bit of that ground Sunday afternoon.

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